Should Christian Organizations Flee Bad Names?

At different points in my life I have been a part of two organizations -- the Southern Baptist Convention and Campus Crusade for Christ -- which are now undergoing, or contemplating, name changes. Other Christian groups have preceded them, such as the Baptist General Conference (now "Converge Worldwide") and I doubt that they will be the last to make such re-branding moves.

Some readers will inevitably decry the fact that most if not all of the beliefs of these two groups will remain unchanged, even if they change their names. But those beliefs -- controversial though they may be -- are nothing that Christians haven't always believed: that Christ is God, that all mankind has rebelled and that there is only one way to find salvation (namely, through the work of Jesus).

So putting aside metaphysical disagreements, we're left to ask ourselves (whether believers or not) how we should receive these name changes. Should Southern Baptists always be Southern Baptists, so that they'll never forget their slave-trading past? Should Campus Crusade stay Campus Crusade, so that it will never forget the danger of using explosive words? That is, are these name changes simply cheap attempts to put themselves in a more favorable light?

No. And I would advise that both secular and religious observers take these moves for what they really are: repentance.

I happened to be travelling in the Deep South a few weeks ago and heard a powerful message, condemning slavery at great length, from the pulpit of a prestigious and historic Southern Baptist Church in Mississippi. If you think the message of their error has not reached them, you have not been there to hear it yourself.

I am also in contact with friends who work for Campus Crusade, now simply "Cru," and along with their work to share the Gospel, I am routinely overwhelmed by the kind of large-scale efforts they're leading to build up communities all over the world, even when that means not having a chance to share the Christian message explicitly.

Groups like the Southern Baptist Convention and Campus Crusade are ready to move past the poor names, and sometimes poor choices, which have defined them in the past, and we all ought to let them do so without a bunch of fuss. No doubt some people will use the occasion to do a bit of moral flogging. But as one who has dear friends of many different religious persuasions, I urge to remember: As in a family, so in a society. If you teach people that their repentance will not be accepted, it will be a long time before you see them repent again.